How To: Sort and Organize Your E-mail

Inbox overloaded? After signing up for all those e-mail lists (see last month's column, "How to Use an E-Mail List," at, what can you do to organize the messages you do keep?

Folders: Create folders in your e-mail program. You can store your e-mails in separate folders just like your computer files. Organize them in a way that makes sense to you; by sender, topic, or project, for instance. Some programs even allow you to create folders within folders for more specific organization.

Searching: Even when filed in folders, specific e-mail messages may be difficult to find. Many e-mail programs offer a Find utility you can use to locate a message. All you need to do is remember a single word from the message and the Find feature will locate it for you. In addition to keyword searches, some programs offer the ability to search by sender, recipient, date sent, or date received.

Sorting: Sorting is an alternative to searching. Most e-mail programs present you with a columnar list of your messages, usually sorted by date (with the most recent messages at the top). In many of these programs, you can simply click on a column heading and sort your list by that column. Sorting by sender, for example, will result in all messages from each sender being grouped together.

Filters and Rules: Filters and rules can be used to automatically sort and deal with your incoming e-mail. Do you want all messages with the word "Viagra" as part of the subject to automatically be deleted? Set up a rule within your e-mail program that tells it to do so. Should all of your e-mails from your supervisor go into a specific folder? A filtering rule can help.

Colors: Both Microsoft Outlook and Apple's Mail program offer the ability to customize colors for certain messages. For example, you can have it so messages from your principal are listed in red, making them easy to pick out in the list.

Archiving: This can be especially important if you have network storage of your e-mail, such as with FirstClass or Microsoft Exchange. You may want to store copies of your e-mail locally (on your own computer). Programs such as Outlook have an Archive command that allows you to make a copy of any or all of your e-mail folders on your own computer. Some programs can be configured to do this automatically, for instance, for all messages over six months old. If your e-mail server is periodically purged of old messages, yours will still be safe on your computer.

Jeffrey Branzburg is a contributing editor and regular columnist for Technology & Learning.

Speaking of e-mail, our Web site offers a broad range of tips and articles on school-related uses.

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